The Liberal Case for Humanitarian Intervention

55 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2001

See all articles by Fernando R. Tesón

Fernando R. Tesón

Florida State University College of Law

Date Written: November 2001


The paper makes the liberal argument for intervening by force to end or prevent serious human rights abuses. It relies on twin assumptions of liberal moral and political theory: that the primary purpose of governments is to protect human rights, and that victims of grievous injustice are entitled to outside help. Humanitarian intervention is legitimate when it is directed at suppressing human rights abuses and complies with the doctrine of double effect. The paper considers and rejects well-known objections: that interventions undermine respect for international law, that interventions are comissive acts and thus more objectionable than non-interventions because these are simple omissions, that humanitarian interventions are objectionable because they kill innocent persons, and that humanitarian interventions undermine global stability. Finally, the paper discusses the libertarian objection that humanitarian interventions are illegitimate because governments do not have the right to send persons to fight for the liberty of foreigners. It concludes that this objections has some force against conscription but not against the use of a voluntary army.

Suggested Citation

Tesón, Fernando R., The Liberal Case for Humanitarian Intervention (November 2001). Available at SSRN: or

Fernando R. Tesón (Contact Author)

Florida State University College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

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